Kristin Beck served 20 years in the U.S. Navy. She realized recently that she still wants to serve — albeit in a much different role.
Beck, the only openly transgender former Navy SEAL, announced late Wednesday she will challenge Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives, next year. Beck’s entry into the House race could set up a high-profile — albeit uphill — battle of a campaign for a seat in Maryland’s 5th congressional district, as she attempts to become Congress’ first transgender member.
“When you’re in the military, you feel outside of the system and isolated a little bit from politics,” Beck, 48, told Fusion. “But then you look around — the homelessness, the unemployment — this country is what I fought 20 years for. And I want to do something to make it better.”
Beck said both her military experience and her journey thereafter make her well-suited to serve in Congress. She said she would look at ways to improve the lives of members of the LGBT community, but said she would prioritize the desires and needs of her district — which includes the towns of Waldorf, Prince Frederick, and Chesapeake Beach — above everything else on her agenda.
When she heard about lawmakers moving toward debating an authorization of military force against the extremist group ISIS, for instance, she felt her perspective would help her see things differently from other members.
“I am part of the LGBT community, so I am going to look at it a little differently,” she said. “I’ll have a special eye on those things. But my primary concern would be what my district wants and what it needs.”
Photo: Facebook/Kristin Beck
Beck retired from the Navy in 2011. She served as part of the elite SEAL Team 6, the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden that year. Beck gained national attention in 2013, when she came out as a transgender woman after undergoing hormonal therapy following her retirement. She released a memoir, “Warrior Princess,” in June 2013 detailing her journey toward coming out, and she was the subject of a CNN documentary last year.
When she retired, Beck stayed in Florida, where she had been based. She founded the nonprofit Healing Grounds, which was designed to provide support to disabled veterans through jobs like landscaping and gardening. She said she was encouraged to run for Congress in Florida in 2013 to replace the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young, but ultimately decided against it.
She moved to Maryland’s 5th District a little more than a year ago, and she and her girlfriend purchased a house a bit more than six months ago. But she knows the area — her mother has lived in the area for more than two decades, working as a teacher in Waldorf, Maryland.
Beck has met Hoyer a couple of times and insists she likes him personally, as well as much of what he has accomplished. But after Hoyer’s more than three decades in office, she thinks it’s time for a change.
“I’m not making the fact that he’s the No. 2 Democrat part of my equation,” Beck told Fusion. “Sometimes, it’s time to have a new person step in with new ideas and a new strategy.”
Her early strategy so far suggests a much different approach, one designed to attract younger and more diverse voters. She announced her campaign with a photo on Facebook of the much-publicized moment between Beck (the musician) and Kanye West at the Grammys last weekend. The photo asks voters to choose Kristin BECK for Congress:
Photo: Facebook/Kristin Beck
“Just having fun with it,” she said. “Maybe get the 20-year-olds checking out politics and maybe vote.”
But she also faces a stark challenge. Hoyer has been entrenched in Democratic leadership since 2003, when he was first elected to the position of the House’s minority whip. He was the House majority leader from 2007-11, and he was re-elected to the minority-whip position after Democrats lost control of the House.
In a statement his campaign provided to Fusion, Hoyer didn’t have a specific reaction to Beck’s entry into the race. But he said he would work to once again earn the votes of his constituents in 2016.
"I am proud to represent Maryland's Fifth District in Congress. I appreciate the support of my constituents and will continue to work on their behalf to address their priorities, and earn their vote in 2016,” Hoyer said.
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.